||Romance (H/M), angst
words; 128 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
||A Tangled Webb
||Harm has had enough.
Will Mac be able to save their love? Sounds like a Harlequin
novel... I know. Angst, and a shipper twist. Our friend Harm has
a tendency to be impulsive, rash and hurtful when he's hurt. I'm
exploring the angle, based on the pure look of pain in his eyes
when he saw Mac kiss Clay.
~~~ Part One: Break
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
Harm walked into JAG HQ, for the first time since his return from
Paraguay. He was dressed in a pair of beige slacks, a black, short
sleeve shirt and a light sport jacket. It felt odd not to be in uniform.
As he walked up the steps, he resisted the urge to salute the entrance
Every single one of those steps reminded him of her. Every single parcel
of this building was infused with her essence. The memories threatened
to choke him. Every hall, every room held a memory of Sarah Mackenzie.
He paused by the elevator and took a deep, shaking breath. He was doing
the right thing. He had to. He needed to do this. So why did it feel so
Once the elevator doors opened to reveal the Ops bullpen, his anxiety
returned, magnified tenfold. Luckily, his state of dress afforded a
welcome anonymity. He quickly made his way towards the admiral's office
before the pair of lieutenants chatting by a desk, the ones he knew so
well and cared so much for, noticed him. As he crossed the room, time
seemingly slowed to a standstill and he felt each of his step echo into
his soul, every detail magnified; the sharp edges of the metal file
cabinets, the one by his office door, where he constantly knocked his
elbow while reading files; the splashes of sunlight on the floor; the
milling of the staff; the sharp tang of burnt coffee on the hotplate...
"Tiner, is the admiral available?" he asked, as he walked up to the
petty officer's desk.
Out of habit, Tiner jumped to attention. "I'll check, sir."
"Relax, Tiner. You can call me Harm. I'm not in the Navy anymore."
"If you say so, sir," Tiner replied, disbelieving, as he waited for the
admiral to answer the intercom. A moment later, he told Harm to go in.
"Thank you, Tiner."
Harm walked into the admiral's office, his heart hammering. He resisted
the urge to come to attention and kept his posture casual. "Good
"Mr. Rabb. Have a seat." AJ took a moment to study the man in front of
him. He looked undoubtedly different than he had barely a week before.
There was no hint of a smile on his face, and his expressive eyes seemed
clouded by the storm within.
"What can I do for you?" he asked calmly. When Tiner had announced a Mr.
Rabb, he'd expected Harm to ask for his position back, but now, he
wasn't so sure. Something in the man's demeanor spoke of a darkness
rarely witnessed before in him.
"I came to pick up my final orders."
AJ noted the absence of the 'sir' at the end of the sentence. Harm's
tone was respectful, but he could sense a hint of defiance. The blue
eyes met his own, head on, never flinching.
"Oh? I expected you to come in and beg for forgiveness..."
"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you," Harm replied, this time, almost
"I'll remind you, Commander Rabb, that until your terminal leave is up,
you still owe me and this office the same military courtesy and respect
as before," AJ growled.
Harm smiled sarcastically. "I'm sorry, sir. I only came to pick up my
orders and to clear out my office, sir." The emphasis he put on the last
word was not lost on AJ.
He rose from his chair and came around the desk. He took a chair across
the ex-commander. Time to try a different approach.
"Harm, I'd like to think we've become friends over the years. You've
always backed me up in difficult times in this office and out, and I
tried to help you as much as I could, but sometimes, my duty takes
precedence. I know you understand that. So why all this hostility?"
When Harm didn't reply, AJ threw his glasses on his desk. "All right.
Forget the ranks, forget the uniform. What the hell is the matter with
"Fine, AJ. If you know me as well as you say you do, why don't you
figure it out?" Harm snapped.
"That's why you're giving up your career? Come on, you know I didn't
process your resignation! You two have been down this road before.
"You asked me what I was willing to risk to keep her. I thought risking
my career and my life was a pretty good start. She thanked me by falling
into Clayton Webb's arms."
AJ was momentarily left speechless. Webb? "So you're just walking away,
without a fight? I'm sorry but that's not like you. You give up your
career and your wings and just suddenly ring the bell? That makes no
"Well I'm sorry to disappoint you, but this time, I'm not sticking
around for the fun. I'm sick and tired of putting myself on hold for the
sake of my career, or hers, or for the Navy. I've taken the UCMJ and my
oath to my country as far as I can. I even sacrificed the woman I love
for it. I always understood the need for rules and regulations and their
respect but this level of 'Don't f*** around the payroll' ended up
costing me all I had. Not that a roll in the hay is all I've wanted with
her. I'm in love with her and she doesn't care. Everything here screams
of her to me. Excuse me for not wanting to sit around and watch the
woman who should have been my wife make a life with another man," Harm
AJ's eyebrows rose at his language, but he held his tongue. The man
really had been pushed too far. Everyone has limits, and AJ was only
mildly surprised to see that Harm had finally reached his.
"You're throwing it all away. Everything..."
"I'm not throwing anything away. I've had a good career in the Navy, but
it's time for me to move on and stop looking back. Isn't that what you
told me to do? So I'm moving on, never looking back."
"I see." AJ took a moment to think before speaking again. "Your
Harm nodded quietly, his lips drawn into a thin line.
"All right. I'll process the paperwork. Your final orders should be
ready by the end of the week."
"Thank you, sir. I'll give Tiner the address to send them to," Harm
replied, his voice flat and dull. All the fight had seemingly gone out
of him, leaving him sullen and defeated.
"You're leaving DC?"
"Where are you going?"
"Home. California. I'd appreciate it if you kept this to yourself, sir."
"Might I remind you that you have some friends here, and a godchild to
take care of, and another one on the way?"
"I know. I'll let them know as soon as I'm settled."
"All right. It's your decision."
Harm rose to leave and extended a hand to AJ. "Thank you, sir. It's been
a true honor serving with you."
"Likewise. You will be missed. If you ever change your mind... You know
you're reserves for 5 years once you leave..."
Harm gave him a crooked smile. "I know. Goodbye, sir. Thank you for
everything." Despite his inner turmoil, his voice was strong and clear,
filled with a sudden sense of purpose.
"Be safe, and don't be a stranger."
"Aye, sir." With those words, Harm turned and left, closing another
chapter in his life.
~~~ Part Two: Gone
One week later...
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
Mac walked into headquarters with only a slight limp as a reminder of
her Paraguayan ordeal. She was greeted by smiles and nods from the staff
and Harriet couldn't resist a hug. The admiral watched the scene unfold,
leaning against Tiner's desk.
"Colonel, my office, please," AJ called softly.
Casting a glance at her partner's office, Mac was surprised to find it
dark. Once Gunny and the Marines had pulled them out of the jungle, they
hadn't had a chance to see or talk to each other. Mac had been injured
and hospitalized, while Harm had gone straight home to the States. She'd
tried to call him numerous times, only getting his machine, and
eventually, no answer at all.
She assumed he'd been on a case somewhere, but the look in the admiral's
eyes sparked a flame of fear in her soul.
The admiral offered her a chair, and surprisingly, he sat next to her.
"How are you doing, Mac?"
"I'm good, thank you sir. Have, um, have you heard anything from
Commander Rabb, sir?" she asked, somewhat hesitantly.
AJ closed his eyes. He hadn't said a word to her... The instant those
two had met, he'd known there would be trouble. But at this precise
moment, he cursed Rabb's name for slipping away like a coward. He
clamped down on his own ire and tried to find a way to soften the blow.
He sighed and pursed his lips.
"When was the last time you spoke to him?"
"We didn't... Before the crash... I didn't even get to say thank you for
coming to our rescue. What are you trying to tell me, sir?"
"Mac... He resigned his commission when I wouldn't grant him leave to go
and find you."
"What?" Mac was horror-struck. How could he do something so foolish?
"You were in danger. What did you think he was going to do? And with you
gone, and the SecNav breathing down my neck... I couldn't grant him
leave, so, he quit."
"But... I'm sorry, sir, but could you take him back, like you did me?"
"I tried. He doesn't want to come back. Said he needed to move on," AJ
said, his piercing gaze locked on her.
Despite her best efforts, Mac's eyes filled with tears. Instantly, she
knew. He was gone. For good, this time. She didn't have to ask why. He'd
seen the kiss. She hadn't explained. "Did he tell you what he was going
"No, he didn't."
"Sir, I have to-"
"Go." AJ knew what he was doing was wrong, that he was hopelessly
shorthanded, but Mac had been too much of a good friend to him, and he
too sometimes questioned the rigidity of military principles when it
came to human emotions. They all were trained to be fighting machines,
dedicated to the service of their country, but in the end, they were all
only human. "Go. But I need you here in the morning."
"Thank you, sir."
As he watched her storm out of his office, AJ could only pray she would
find something more than an empty apartment.
"Damn you, Rabb. Damn you." AJ whispered softly.
~~~ Part Three : Goodbyes
Mac barreled up the steps to Harm's loft. Once on the landing, she ran
to the door but stopped short. A white envelope was taped to it, with
only three letters printed clearly on it.
After spending ten minutes gathering her courage, she snatched the
envelope from the door and tore it open. Her head told her it was too
late, that there was no point in hurting herself further, but her heart
altogether refused to give up hope. Inside the envelope, was a single
page, bearing only a few lines in a handwriting she knew as well as her
I had hoped to find you, to give myself to you. But again, I waited too
long. I did find you, but I'd already lost you to him.
They say if you love something, let it go. If it doesn't come back, it
was never yours. Hackneyed, but sadly true. I've let you go more times
than I can count, but this time, you didn't come back to me. I said I
never wanted to lose you. I meant it. Now that I have, there is nothing
left for me here. I can't be just a friend anymore, and you don't want
me to be more.
Give Harriet, Bud and Little AJ my love. When their little one is born,
my attorney will send them papers for a college trust fund, for the
child, to be administered by you. My trust in you is something that will
I ask of you only one thing: let me go. Don't try to find me. Leave me
in peace, and be happy. You deserve to be. I only regret I'm not the one
giving you that happiness. I'm sorry, Sundance. It just wasn't meant to
Goodbye, Sarah Mackenzie.
P.S. Who's crying, now?
Mac sagged against the wall as her knees turned to cotton. This couldn't
be happening! He couldn't be gone! The harshness of his words cut though
her like a knife, slicing her soul open. He loved her. How could she be
so blind? How could she accuse him of always stepping back?
She forced her legs to move and wrenched the door of the loft open. She
took a few steps inside the place that used to be her safe haven when
life got rough. Now, it was completely empty, devoid of any traces of
the man who possessed her soul.
"NO!" she screamed. Grief crashed over her and she crumpled to the
floor, mourning her lost love. Her tears seemed endless, an empty void
gaping where her heart used to be. He was gone. She'd finally pushed him
too far. How could she do this to him? He'd come for her, given up
everything, and she'd kissed another man.
Hours or minutes later, she couldn't tell, her tears finally stopped.
She gently ran her fingers over his final words to her, finding the page
dimpled and the ink blurred. The page was covered by tear marks. She
remembered her own words, from so long ago: "Damn you. Why am I the only
one crying?" The last sentence of his letter rang through her soul.
'Who's crying now?'
When she'd met up with him to go after the Stingers, she had seen
something dark and ominous in his eyes. Now that she had time to reflect
back on that moment, she recognized it with stark clarity: a broken
It was all her fault.
~~~ Part Four: Meetings
CRAFTON'S OUTFITTER & CHARTER
A tall, dark-haired man stood in the office door, a worn duffel slung
over his shoulder.
"Excuse me," the man said.
"What do you want?" the burly old man behind the disorderly desk
"You looking for a bush pilot?"
"Says an ex-Navy fighter pilot."
"So, you can fly. Know anything about small plane mechanics?"
The tall man nodded. "Restored my own Stearman."
The burly man raised his head and stared at the stranger. He was tall
and clean-shaven, his short dark hair well trimmed. He wore dusty
snakeskin cowboy boots, faded blue jeans, a white undershirt under a
light blue denim shirt, and a USS Seahawk ball cap, tucked low over his
eyes. His square jaw and ice blue eyes betrayed no emotions, only a
"There's a war on. Why aren't you fighting it?" he finally said, eyeing
the man curiously.
"I did my time."
"Then, whatcha hiding from?" the leathery, old outfitter asked
"Look, you want a pilot or not?"
The old man motioned for the younger one to step inside and sit. He did.
Old Morris Crafton had seen many souls come and go though Sundance,
Wyoming, and all had one thing in common; pain and hidden secrets. No
one ever came here without purpose, unless they were born here. Mo had
long ago learned that. So he'd stayed behind, when his family left over
thirty years ago, to offer a safe haven to lost souls.
"I need a pilot. But no one comes here without a reason. And I want to
"Forget it," the younger man snapped, jumping out of the chair and
snatching his duffel from the floor.
"You got the job, boy. Sit down, " Mo commanded. "You'll tell me soon
enough. You got a name?"
"Dean J. Harmon." He extended a reluctant hand. He was surprised at the
astuteness and benevolence he could see in the old man's eyes, despite
the gruff exterior.
"Morris Crafton. Mo."
The man who used to be Harmon Rabb hesitated for a spell. The natural
reply of 'Harm' slowly died on his lips. He heaved a quick breath before
replying. "Hammer. Don't ask."
"Don't have to. You'll tell me when you're good and ready to. Come on.
I'll show you where you can drop your stuff."
Hours later, Mo and Hammer were sitting on the worn porch of Crafton's
Outfitter, sharing a beer.
"So, Hammer, why Sundance, Wyoming?" Mo asked. The man beside him
carried a heavy burden, he could tell. Everything about his bearing and
poise screamed 'career military', like he had lived and breathed for the
service for years, not just 'did his time'. And the man had a sharp mind
and a silver tongue to go with it. To boot, he knew how to hold a stick,
as sure as Mo's seventy-nine winters.
"Cosmic joke," he replied, his gaze lost into the night.
"Is that all I'm gonna get from you? Half-replies and snide remarks?"
"Hey, I call 'em like I see 'em. That plane of yours isn't fit to fly,
let alone charter. I need at least a week to fix her up. As for my
personal life, I don't have one, so bug off, Mo." He had no idea why
he'd decided to take the job. Mo was turning out to be a perceptive old
eagle, a persistent one to boot. He'd smelled the wounds in Harm's soul
like the old bloodhound haunting the outfitter's property smelled out
groundhogs and hares. But he was no easy prey.
"Hey! Pay some respect to the old girl. That's a Beaver bush plane, boy,
the best bush plane ever made, and she's over 50 years old. Besides,
Hammer, you and I both know why you decided to stick with this old coot.
You have a story to tell, and my business is to listen. You ain't one of
them dumbass weekend pilots I see all the time. They come up for one
season, for the thrill of flying the bush, and then, they pack up and
leave. You, you're different. You seen it rain and rain hard, boy. So
you left the storm behind and came to hide here. Am I right?"
Harm only stared into the darkness, and up at the stars. There were so
many here, almost like... Like in Afghanistan. He quickly pushed the
memory away, but not before her face flashed in his mind. After a long
silence, disturbed only by the shrill song of grass crickets, he
"That was another lifetime ago. I came here to start fresh. No history,
no burden, no expectations," he said softly. "I came here to live my
life for me. Not anyone else. Now does that satisfy your curiosity?" he
added, a little harshly.
"That it does, boy. You sure you ain't a lawyer instead of a pilot? You
sure can speak fancy when you want to..."
"Mo, you are just a bit too curious for your own good," Harm replied
grimly, before draining the remains of his beer. He rose off the old,
peeled wood chair. "See you in the morning."
Harm walked around the old beat up building, to his temporary lodgings.
He pushed the creaking door open and threw his ball cap onto a chair. He
toed off his boots and stripped to his boxers and undershirt. He flopped
onto the bed, staring at the darkened ceiling.
Cosmic joke indeed. The first ad he'd seen for a bush pilot in some
god-forsaken place had been here. Sundance, Wyoming. How ironic. A week
had passed since his hasty departure from DC. Mac probably knew by now,
and probably had found his letter. He knew she'd be hurt, but she'd get
over it. She had Clay for that. All he had were memories of something
that didn't exist, of a love that died before it was even born.
He'd told his mother he was going away for a while, that he didn't know
where, or for how long. He told her he'd write. He'd told Frank if he
ever needed to be found, to contact his attorney, Stanford Milton, an
old family friend. He'd given them the same address he'd left with
Tiner. A post office box in San Francisco, where Milton would pick up
his mail and forward it.
When his mother asked, as he stepped out the door, when she would see
him again, he'd lied. He said 'I don't know.' The truth was: probably
never again. He'd hugged her and Frank, told them not to worry. And
then, he'd driven to San Francisco, and met with Milton, and signed the
papers officially changing his name.
He 'd lived in the past long enough. He'd searched for the truth and for
his identity for far too long. It was time to leave everything behind.
He felt a pang of regret about abandoning his godson and his brother.
But it was either that or die. He couldn't make himself face a life
without Mac again. Not with her next to him every day, rubbing salt into
the wound, making it bleed until it killed him. 'Better lose your heart
than your life', he thought. Still, he'd left Sergei and his mother a
cell number, telling them the person at the other end would know how to
contact him. And now, the break was complete, clean, almost sterile.
Now, he vowed, he would live only for himself. The others be damned.
Caring for others had cost him too much. Not anymore.
He lay awake for long hours, desperately trying to bury the pain and
anger he felt towards the woman who had killed his already wounded
heart. But as hard as he tried, he couldn't bring himself to hate her,
despite how deeply she'd hurt him.
"Damn you, Sarah Mackenzie. I never should have let myself love you," he
whispered in the dark.
~~~ Part Five: Searching
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
Mac walked into the office, still lost in a daze. Her entire world had
come to an abrupt halt the morning before, and she doubted it would ever
feel right again.
"Mac? Is everything all right?"
"What? Oh, hi, Sturgis. No, not really..."
Sturgis motioned towards his office. "Let's talk."
Numbly, Mac followed him. Once they were safely inside his office, door
closed and blinds drawn, Sturgis motioned for her to sit. He did the
same, taking the chair beside hers.
"What did he do this time?" Sturgis asked pointedly. He didn't need to
"I know. He resigned his commission to go and find you. You know the
admiral will take him back-"
"That's not what I meant," Mac replied, her voice quivering. "He left
DC. For good. His place is empty. He's... He's gone."
Sturgis' eyes widened. The admiral had announced they were getting two
new attorneys. He'd assumed they were to replace Manetti and Singer,
but... Now that he thought back, one of them was a senior officer; a
Marine lieutenant colonel...
"I'll strangle that idiot!" Sturgis raged, as he shot to his feet and
began to pace. How could he leave without telling anyone? Especially
"It's all my fault," Mac murmured.
"No," she said, rising out of the chair. "Don't. Thanks for listening,
Sturgis, but I need to get back to work." Without another word, she was
gone, leaving behind a frowning and completely bewildered Sturgis
Mac quickly retreated to her office, slamming the door. How she wanted a
drink! As the thought formed in her head, she squared her shoulders and
set her jaw. No. He would not drive her to that. He didn't deserve to
win. He was a coward. He'd slipped away, without telling anyone, without
having the decency to tell her face-to-face.
But it was all her fault.
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
Mac distractedly answered the phone off her desk. She'd kept herself
buried in work. It was the only way she'd found to dull the pain. She
wondered how long she would be able to keep up the façade, how long
before the story filtered through the office scuttlebutt, how long it
would take for all of them to blame her for his departure.
"Mackenzie," she barely whispered into the device.
"Colonel? It's Harriet."
"Hi, Harriet! How are you and the baby doing?" Mac asked, glad to be
able to distract herself from the dismal thoughts floating around in her
"Fine, ma'am, but that's not why I called. I, um... I got a letter from
Com--... from Harm. I need you to see it."
"Mac, you two are my son's godparents! We need to understand!"
"I'll be there in half an hour."
Thirty minutes later, Mac was sitting in the Robertses’ living room,
reading the letter Harm had sent Harriet and Bud. The wording was
different, softer, but the message was the same. He was leaving, never
to come back again. He expressed his love for his 'surrogate' family,
and asked them to find another godfather for their coming child, and
said his goodbyes.
What surprised her the most was the other piece of paper. It was the
deed to Sarah, his biplane. His gift to Little AJ, he'd said.
"Mac, what in the world happened to you two?" Harriet questioned.
"To hell with the classified! I'm not asking you to tell me about the
assignment! I want to know what happened between the two of you for Harm
to leave us all like that!" Harriet demanded, a clear note of hurt and
fury lacing her words.
Mac's head fell forward in defeat. "It's all my fault. I broke his
Seeing the look of pure torture in Mac's eyes, Harriet softened, and sat
next to her. "What? How?"
Quietly, Mac told Harriet how Harm had come to her rescue, how badly
hurt Clay had been... How she never even thanked him, how she'd kissed a
man she didn't love, right in the face of the one she did, how they'd
gone about their business without a single word of explanation... She
finished her tale, resting her head in her hands. She wanted to cry. She
wanted to hurt. But there was only an all-consuming numbness inside.
"Mac... It's not your fault. Not entirely, at least," Harriet comforted.
"He didn't even bother to ask you if there's really anything between you
and Mr. Webb."
"But, if I'd just said something...."
Harriet put her hand on Mac's to stop her. "Don't. Just don't. We'll
never know. Listen to me. It takes two to love, and two to hurt. Don't
take all the blame for this!"
Mac raised her head and looked straight at the woman she considered her
little sister. "You knew?"
"That I love him? "
"And that he loves you. We both did."
"Why didn't you say so?" Mac cried.
"It wasn't our place, Mac. Love has to make its own path. I may play
matchmaker once in a while, but true love always finds its own way, like
with me and Bud."
"Then why couldn't we find our way to each other?" Mac whispered
"So, you've already given up on him."
"He's gone. He walked away. He doesn't want me to go after him..."
Harriet put both her fists on her hips. "And since when has that stopped
Mac's head snapped up. Harriet was right. Since when did she ever listen
to him? If she wanted him back, it was up to her to find him. She rose
from the couch and hugged Harriet tightly.
Harriet smiled. "You're welcome."
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
AJ wasn't the least bit surprised when the knock came at his office
door, way past normal hours.
"Enter," he called.
He was equally unperturbed to see Sarah Mackenzie come into his office.
Word had been slowly spreading that Rabb wasn't coming back, that he'd
vanished. It was only a question of time before she came back to ask if
he knew anything.
He raised a hand, halting her questions. "I can't tell you where he is,"
he said, as he waved her to a chair.
AJ again held up a hand. "Personnel records are confidential. You know
that." After pausing to let his words sink in, AJ locked his piercing
eyes on her and spoke again.
"Colonel, I need you to sign on some final orders," he said
emphatically, eyebrows raised, as he pushed a folder across his desk.
Intrigued, Mac reached for the manila folder and read the name: Rabb,
Harmon D. Jr. Her eyes widened, but she quickly recovered her composure.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
AJ nodded. "Keep me informed. Dismissed."
"Aye, aye, sir." Mac said smartly, before turning on her heel. She would
Three days later...
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
"Come in, Colonel," AJ invited. "What did you find?"
Mac sat in front of the admiral's desk, impassible. She had built back
the walls around her heart. It was the only way to go on. If she let
herself feel, the intensity of her grief and anger would consume her.
"Nothing?" AJ repeated, incredulous.
"The address in San Francisco is a post office box, registered to a law
firm there. It's a dead end. I spoke to his attorney, a Stanford Milton.
Won't tell me anything. What mail Harm does get is kept by him, until he
contacts them to have it forwarded," Mac explained, her voice flat and
"I talked to Webb," she went on. "He can't find Harm either. Probably
changed his name, and from the lack of a trail, probably had Agency
help. Clay's guess is Harrison Kershaw, as payment for his help with the
Stingers. There's nothing to go on."
AJ threw his glasses on his desk and leaned back in his chair, rubbing a
hand over his scalp.
"Both his mother and brother have an emergency cell number. It leads
back to the law firm."
AJ leaned back in his chair. "So, what are you going to do now?"
"I don't know, sir," Mac replied, somewhat coldly. "But I have a dozen
case files waiting on my desk. If I may?"
Once he was alone in his office, AJ pinched the bridge of his nose and
sighed deeply. There was nothing left to do but hope Harm would
eventually come back on his own. He didn't hold a lot of faith in that
happening. He only prayed he hadn't taken the soul of one Sarah
Mackenzie with him.
~~~ Part Six: The good and
the bad ~~~
One month later, June 2003
CROOK LAKE DOCK
"Good flight?" Mo asked, as Hammer jumped out of the old Beaver's
cockpit, onto the floating wooden tie-down.
"Fine. She's really a great little plane," Harm replied as he secured
the plane, smiling broadly. Flying, even an old, patched up bush plane,
still had a cathartic effect on him. "Betty" was no Tomcat, and neither
was she a nimble Stearman, but what she lacked in grace and agility, she
made up with strength and stamina.
Harm thoroughly enjoyed her short takeoffs and landings, especially on
water. And as the saying went, if a Beaver can float, it can fly. Harm
was amazed at the amount of cargo the old plane would carry. But what
had surprised him the most was the value of the aircraft itself. The
Beaver was a WWII era plane, and only 1691 of these "flying jeeps" had
been made. The original purchase price of 30 000$ had now multiplied by
a factor of 10 to 20, depending on the condition of the plane.
"I knew you'd take a liking to her. I'm just too old to give her the
attention she needs," Mo replied, a little nostalgic.
"Where did you learn to fly?" Hammer asked.
Mo scoffed. "You sure you want to know, Navy?"
The familiar nickname cut straight to Hammer's heart. He quickly gained
back his composure, but not before Mo saw the flash of pain and longing
cross his expressive eyes. "Let me guess. Air Force," he said with half
a smile, hoping Mo hadn't noticed the passing feelings.
"Captain Morris Crafton, 38th Bomber group," Mo replied smartly, as he
Harm chuckled and saluted back. "A zoomie. I should have known. What did
"B-29's, mostly over Formosa and the Philippines. You?" Mo asked. It was
the first time since the tall pilot's arrival that Mo had dared push the
subject. The wounded soul that had come to seek a job only a month ago
vanished every time he was in the air, replaced by a true, cocky,
arrogant fighter jock. The man loved to fly. He was born to do it.
Fighter jocks hadn't changed much since his time in the service, over 50
Hammer's eyes darkened. That part of his life was over. Still, there was
no harm in answering the old man. "F-14's. Mostly in the Persian Gulf
and Kosovo. Hammer was my callsign," he said guardedly.
Mo put a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "I see how much you love
it, up there, boy. And you'll have me believe that you did your time and
left? Flying's in your blood, Hammer."
Hammer walked up the pier and leaned on the railing, staring over the
vast expanse of Crook Lake.
"Don't I know it... I'm a third generation Navy pilot, and my brother's
a helo pilot." As he uttered the words, a million memories of the past
assaulted him, from his visit to the Hornet with his dad, his tour on
the Henry, the hours he spent working on Sarah, his brother's smile, his
first flight with Mac... Mac.
He closed his eyes against the flood of moisture that threatened to
spill. Every time he thought of her, his heart squeezed and he forgot
how to breathe. How would he ever forget her? How would he ever live his
life without Sarah Mackenzie?
Every time he contemplated the years that lay ahead, the years of
painful loneliness, he felt himself on the verge of an endless void, and
sometimes, all he wanted was to let himself fall into oblivion, forget
she'd ever existed, forget his life as well, and maybe then he would
find eternal peace. But that, too, wasn't meant to be. Harmon Rabb, or
rather Dean Harmon, had too much pride to take his own life. He wouldn't
give it up. He would wait, alone and beaten, for the years of solitude
to pass, until his time came.
The hand on his shoulder brought him back from his dark musings.
"You okay? I'm sorry. Didn't mean to stir up the bad, boy," Mo said
"Don't worry 'bout it. As much as I love being up there, somehow it
brought me more pain than happiness over the years. But like you said,
it's what I was born to do. And that's the only thing that I love." He
knew that wasn't true. There would always be something else, someone
else, like all the rest he'd wanted in his life, unattainable, stolen
"I don't mean to pry but what the hell do you mean?"
"I crashed two Tomcats, a MiG, and a crop duster, and had a really close
call with my Stearman."
Mo's eyes widened to saucers. "And I let you fly my Betty?"
"Hey! I got two DFCs and a Silver Star!" Hammer said in defense. A
sudden panic filled him, as once again, he caught himself about to
reveal his past. But something stopped him. He was here to forget, to
make a new life, to bury his memories forever. Harmon Rabb Jr, Commander
USN, pilot and JAG attorney was dead, and would stay that way. He had
to. It was the only way for the man under the façade to survive. And
with it, went all memories of Sarah Mackenzie, as well as the love he
felt for her.
"It's easier to make peace with the past than to try and ignore that it
existed, Dean," Mo said quietly, his hand still on the other man's
"And sometimes the past can bury you, and kill you, Mo." Hammer replied,
equally softly. "And that's my choice, and my cross to bear. I know
you're trying to help, but don't, all right?" he added, more sharply.
Both were silent for a spell, watching the sun slowly descend over
Sundance Mountain. Mo decided it was time to move on to other subjects.
"Kat Miller's looking for a foreman for the Bearlodge Mountain Ranch."
"Who's Kat Miller?" Hammer asked.
"The short, chestnut-haired whirlwind that came in yesterday. Bout five
two, green eyes?"
Harm frowned. "That little piece of work?" He remembered the
short-tempered, strong-willed, opinionated woman that had come into the
shop, mad as a bee-stung bull, because that, quote, "idiotic, stupid,
ignorant, reckless sorry excuse for a pilot of his" had done a low flyby
over her fields and scared the cattle, which had broken the fence, and
had demanded Mo pay for the damages.
"That'll be the one. I told her you'd fix the fence. She runs that
cattle ranch by herself. She needs someone to oversee things for her,
keep the farmhands in line. If you can hold your own against her tongue,
and I think you can, she may hire you."
"I already got a job, Mo, flying for you, remember?"
"I know. But come winter, there ain't much else than the cargo flights.
And besides, you fly up what, twice, three times a week, max? I can't
send you as a guide, you don't know the terrain."
"I don't need the money, if that's what you're asking," Hammer replied,
"Look, you need something to keep busy besides the puddle hops and
maintenance I need you for, and Kat needs the help. She doesn't pay
much, but you get the foreman's cabin. Better than that little hole
behind the shop, ain't it?"
"I'll think about it."
"She's expecting you at 6, tomorrow morning."
Hammer rolled his eyes and sighed deeply. He looked at Mo through the
corner of his eye. "You're worse than my old CO, and he was a two-star
"Take the pickup. You'll need it for the new fence posts," Mo said,
ignoring him completely, a set of keys hanging from his extended
Hammer only shook his head in defeat and grabbed the keys.
~~~ Part Seven: Friends
BEARLODGE MOUNTAIN RANCH
Kat Miller leaned against the broken fence post in the west field. Mo's
pilot was late. She pushed off the post and began to pace angrily, until
Mo's old, battered pickup appeared at the edge of the field a few
"Bout time you showed up!" she shouted at the tall man who climbed out
of the driver's side.
"Sorry about the delay. I got lost," Dean offered, as he squared off in
front of the younger woman. "Dean Harmon."
Burning green eyes settled on him, as a deep scowl distorted what Dean
thought to be lovely features.
"You scared the hell out of the herd. They're my living. I can't afford
for some idiot to scare 'em off if he feels like flying hot dog," Kat
Dean couldn't hold back a chuckle.
Anger flared in the green eyes. "You think this is funny?" Kat yelled,
tossing her chestnut mane over her shoulder in exasperation.
"No. I just pictured my grandmother saying the same thing to me a couple
times. And you shouldn't scowl like that. I'm sure you're prettier when
you smile," Dean tried, as he flashed a smile. He didn't know if it was
the fresh mountain air or the fiery little woman, but he felt alive, and
happy, more than he had in a long time.
Kat's scowl softened only lightly. "Get to work. If your grandma had a
cattle farm, you know how to fix a fence. I have better things to do
than baby-sit Mo's lost causes."
"The anger, is it the way you are, or is it just a façade?" Dean asked,
as he dropped a sledgehammer to the ground beside the broken fence. He
leaned on a fencepost, a cocky grin lighting his face.
Kat whirled on her heel and walked up to him, standing about an inch
from him, eyes locked on hers.
"You got a lot of nerve, mister!" She tried to sound furious, but a
sparkle of humor in his eyes somehow completely disarmed her.
Slowly, half a smile crept on his lips.
Despite herself, Kat chuckled and shook her head. "You're too tall for a
staring contest," she stated, a pearl of laughter sneaking into her
"And you're almost intimidating when you try to pretend to be angry."
Dean had no idea why he was so bold with the stranger, but he didn't
question it. She was attractive, and her flaming temper had him smiling.
He was moving on, wasn't he?
This time, Kat did laugh, unable to resist his charisma.
"I was right," Dean said. "You're pretty when you smile."
Usually, when a man flirted so openly with her, Kat got really, really
angry. She hated, completely and totally abhorred being pursued, hated
the pressure, hated feeling like a prize to be won and consumed. But
something in Dean Harmon's eyes -- she didn't quite know why -- drew her
"Thanks. But don't think you're off the hook. I have to get the heifers
out to pasture. I'll be back later."
"I'll look forward to it."
When Kat came back four hours later, she was greeted by the sight of a
shirtless Dean, heaving the heavy sledgehammer, pounding the last of the
new fence posts in the soft earth. She watched him work for a few
minutes, under the shade of a small copse of maple trees. Her horse
whickered softly. At the sound, Dean rose his head and spotted her. He
dropped the tool and wiped the sweat off his body with a small towel.
Clicking her tongue, she guided her bay gelding up to the fence and
"Hey!" he called breathlessly. "Posts are in. I just need to fix the
barb wire and the electric wire."
"Good," Kat replied, a hand on her hip, the other on her saddlebag. She
surveyed the work and nodded appreciatively. "Here." She tossed him a
bottle of ice-cold water.
"Thanks." Dean drained the water in one swig and wiped his mouth with
the back of his hand, chest heaving after the hard work.
"So, you're one of Mo's lost souls..." Kat said, a twinkle in her eye,
half a smile on her lips.
Dean smiled back briefly. "He seems to think so."
"Ok. So, I won't ask for your story, and you won't ask for mine."
"You got a story?" he asked, cocking his head in puzzlement.
"I'm sure Mo told you everyone in Sundance has a story."
Kat fixed her green eyes on his blue ones once again. After a spell, the
shield of bravado and flirting slipped, just for an instant. And in that
moment, she knew. She'd found a kindred soul, one as wounded as her own.
Maybe, just maybe, she'd found a friend.
"You carry your pain, I carry mine. Neither of us wants to share it, but
that doesn't mean we don't need a friend to lean on now and then. Mo
must have told you I speak my mind. I see a friend in you, and I rarely
misjudge people. That's why I let you flirt with me. I know you don't
mean anything by it, and I'm not expecting anything but friendship from
you. So, what do you say?"
The sincerity of her words, mirrored in her emerald orbs, reached out to
his injured heart. He could use a friend...
"You're always this forward?"
"I called you a stupid idiot to your face, before I even knew your name.
What do you think?"
"Friendship accepted," he replied, extending a hand.
Kat took the offered hand and shook it vigorously. "I'm glad. Now. I do
need a foreman. No pay, but I cook, and provide a three room cabin, with
"What do I have to do?"
"Fix the fences, chop some wood for my use and yours, and make sure the
field hands do their jobs."
"Meet me at the ranch at six tonight, for dinner. You'll meet the crew."
"Kat. Katherine Miller."
Kat made a face. "Dean."
Kay smiled and turned back to her horse. She nimbly climbed back on, and
kicked the horse to a full gallop.
"Don't be late!" she yelled over her shoulder, her chestnut mane flying
around her face.
Dinner had been quickly done, and the farmhands had a new boss. Most
were friendly, but it wasn't the kind of working relationship Dean was
used to. The dishes had now been put away, and coffee was brewing in the
In the afternoon, Dean had moved his stuff from Mo's guest room to his
new place. It wasn't very big, but cozy enough.
As he waited for Kat to return, Dean watched the litter of puppies play
in their box beside the fireplace.
"Cute little monsters," he commented.
"Springer spaniels. The best small game flushers in the world," Kat
replied proudly. "Go ahead, pick one up," she urged.
Dean shrugged and walked up to the box. Spirit, the pups' mother,
sniffed his offered hand and licked it. He lowered his tall frame to the
floor and sat next to the box. A little bit of a pup immediately walked
up to him and cocked its small head.
"Hey, you," he said softly. The little ball of liver brown and white fur
gave a decided bark and climbed up the side of the box. Dean picked her
up and put her in his lap.
"Boy or girl?" he asked Kat.
"Can't you tell?"
Dean rolled his eyes and picked up the pup once again to look. "Girl."
The little dog in his lap at once tried to climb his chest and licked
every piece of exposed skin she could find, eventually settling, happily
chewing on his bootlaces.
"Hey! Stop that!" Dean admonished, giving the pup a small pat on the
nose with a finger. To his surprise, the pup jumped off his lap and
curved its back in an invitation to play, giving another short bark.
"Oh, so that's what you want!" Dean replied to the little creature, and
got on all fours.
Kat laughed and smiled, as she watched the tall man and the tiny puppy
playing on the floor. Eventually, fatigue won out, and the pup curled
into Dean's arms to sleep.
"Coffee's ready," Kat said from the kitchen, watching the adorable
scene: a six foot four man, laid out in front of the fireplace, a
sleeping puppy on his chest.
Reluctantly, Dean gently lifted the pup and laid her next to her
brothers and sisters, and walked back to the couch, where Kat was
setting up the tray with cups and saucers.
"Well, what do you know," Kat said, looking over Dean's shoulder,
Dean turned and couldn't help but chuckle. His new "friend" had managed
to climb out of the box and trotted to him. She sniffed his boot,
flopped down onto it, sighed deeply, and closed her eyes.
"She's adopted you, I think."
"Too bad I can't keep her."
"Why not? You have a place of your own now, and you'll never have a more
"I hadn't planned on buying a dog-"
"Who said anything about buying? She's yours."
"What! Kat, I can't accept this... I know how much good hunting dogs
"Can't sell her, now. She's found her master, and she won't accept
another. She's yours. For life."
Dean bent down and stoked the little girl's soft fur. A dog. He hadn't
had one since he was a kid. He smiled. Yes. It felt right.
"So, what's her name?" Kat asked.
"Lea," Dean replied, without hesitation. "It means bold lion, confident
and strong. Like her," he explained, as he scratched behind her soft,
almost rubbery ears.
"I like it! I'll get you a box to put her in. Just put her back for now
and close the pen. I feel like going out. I'm taking you to the Wild
Rose for a nightcap. To celebrate two new friendships."
Dean's eyebrows raised. "The Wild Rose?"
"You’ve been here a month and you haven't been to the only restaurant in
town? Where do you eat?" Kat asked, eyeing Dean's muscular form.
Kat's eyebrows reached her hairline. "In Mo's old kitchen? You are just
full of surprises, aren't you?"
After a pleasant evening and a few drinks at the Wild Rose, where he'd
met Rudy, the place's owner and another one of the few people Kat called
friends, he swung by the house and picked up Lea, a wooden crate, a
blanket and a dish of food for the morning.
He set the wood crate on the floor next to the foot of his bed, the
folded blanket covering the bottom, and one of his socks tucked in a
corner, on Kat's suggestion. It would help soothe the pup's loneliness
to have a familiar smell close to her. He had then dropped into bed,
exhausted and sore.
A soft, insistent whimpering woke him up a few hours after he'd turned
off the light.
"What is it, Lea? You lonely down there?" he asked softly.
A pleading, whimpering bark answered, right next to the headboard.
Curious, he turned on the bedside lamp. He chuckled. Lea had escaped her
crate and was now fruitlessly trying to jump onto his bed. Frustrated,
she sat on her chubby haunches and barked.
Dean sighed and reached a hand to the floor, picking her up.
"Okay. You can sleep with me. But no peeing in the bed, all right?" he
said seriously to the puppy.
"Woof!" Lea burrowed next to his chest and sighed contentedly. At that
moment, Dean knew he was condemned for life. But he didn't care. A dog's
unconditional love and devotion, he could deal with. He turned off the
light and put an arm over his new companion, closing his eyes. And then,
he started to believe he would eventually find some peace.